Obama formally extends US-Iran ‘emergency’

US president keeps in tact 1979 executive order classifying crisis relationship between Washington-Tehran.

Obama White House Briefing Room 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Obama White House Briefing Room 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama formally reminded Congress this week that relations between the United States and Iran are not normal.
“Our relations with Iran have not yet returned to normal,” the US president wrote bluntly in a short letter, extending an executive order signed in 1979 that classifies the relationship as “in emergency” for yet another year.
Perhaps this was an exercise in presidential understatement.
The two governments – at odds for more than 34 years over neocolonialism, hostage-taking, terrorism, theocracy and other matters – have only recently made direct contact, prompted by months of quiet diplomacy that resulted in a 15-minute phone call between the leaders of the two nations.
Since that cordial chat, contact between the two governments has been less than positive.
That is to the surprise of no one. This week, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif brought the crisis relationship into the 21st century by trading barbs over Twitter as to who was to blame for the failure to reach an interim agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.
“Doesn’t the tweeting take the gravitas out of it?” John Stewart, host of the popular satiric The Daily Show on Comedy Central, quipped on Tuesday night, calling the tweet a cheap breakup tactic.
“‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetimes,’ he tweeted. Hashtag persevere,” said Stewart.
The deal, nearly reached in Geneva over the weekend, would have achieved a six-month pause in Iran’s nuclear enrichment work in exchange for modest relief from an extensive and punishing international sanctions regime led by the US.
“You don’t negotiate a deal with terrorists that lasts six months, unless you’re raising the debt ceiling,” Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, joked on Tuesday.
There are signs of progress: the United Kingdom took steps to normalize relations with the Islamic Republic on Sunday, just days after Iran’s annual Death to America rallies took place in the nation’s capital.
Congress is responding to the president’s crisis extension in unison: more sanctions are required, a bipartisan group of senators insist, in order to force the mullahs in Tehran to capitulate on their atomic ambitions.
“This is not a vote for or against sanctions; this is a vote for or against diplomacy,” State Department Jen Psaki said in a briefing to reporters on Tuesday.
No doubt, members of Congress are aware of the risks posed by the imposition of further pressures. But after so many decades, perhaps conflict is the only option that registers in Washington when it comes to Iran.
“The mistrust has deep roots,” Obama explains. “The suspicion is deep.”
Presidential understatement.